Lexus’ approach to F-ifying its GS sedan is… interesting.
By Andrew Krok | Road Show
THE GOODThe 2019 Lexus GS F packs one of the last naturally aspirated V8s in a sport sedan, and its Mark Levinson sound system is the top of the pops.
THE BADIt feels old, it’s priced way too high and it has one of the worst infotainment systems in the industry.
THE BOTTOM LINEIt’s hard not to have fun in the Lexus GS F, but it’s not exactly making a case for itself.
Lexus’ approach to F-ifying its GS sedan is… interesting. The GS F might be one of Lexus’ sportiest offerings, but comparing it to top-of-the-line Germans like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 is unfair, because those cars pack a more substantial wallop. Yet its price is closer to these vehicles than the tier-below Germans that more closely match the GS F’s performance specs, the M550i and E53.
The 2019 Lexus GS F is like a PG-13 cut of John Wick. Sure, most of what you tuned in for is there, but it doesn’t quite feel like you’re getting everything you paid for.
Aging with a little grace
Even though it’s just three model years old, the GS F is operating on Lexus’ last-generation design, predating the slimmer, sultrier looks of new models like the LC and LS. It’s not a bad look, per se — the sides are uncluttered with pointless character lines, and I like the aggression that comes from the front fender cut-out alongside some sharp creases on the hood. But, at the same time, the bumper produces an awkward-looking front overhang. It’s a good look, just not fresh.
On the other hand, the Lexus GS F is now the second car to command the attention of my mail carrier, partially due to its unique matte paint. In this case, it’s part of the $5,000 10th Anniversary Edition package. Limited to just 100 units, this special GS F gets the aforementioned matte gray paint, 19-inch black BBS wheels and blue Brembo brake calipers. The package itself is definitely special, and it’ll turn heads in a way the standard GS F does not.
The package also adds dig-it-or-despise-it blue leather and suede into the mix. Blue suede covers the dashboard and gauge cluster surround, while blue leather lands on the steering wheel, center console, shift knob and front seats, limiting itself to seat belts and other accents in the second row. I think it’s bad, but not everyone agrees. The blue carbon fiber trim looks out of place, though, as it’s a different hue than the leather and suede and, frankly, it looks like a cheap 3M vinyl overlay.
The rest of the interior is pretty decent, though. There’s loads of space in the second row, and the adjustable headrests in the back add an extra degree of passenger comfort. The beltline is a little high, leaving me feeling claustrophobic, but I appreciate the simple layout of the dashboard, and there’s suitable bauble space under the center console’s armrest. Out back, the trunk will eat up just about anything — its 14.1-cubic-foot capacity outshines the Mercedes E-Class by about a cube.
Credit where it’s due, I commend Lexus for sticking to its guns and becoming the last automaker to offer a sport sedan with a naturally aspirated V8. The 5.0-liter eight-cylinder might not match the power put down by the big-boy AMGs and Ms, with just 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque on offer. But since everything else has turbochargers, the GS F has an old-school appeal that its competition can’t match. The V8 is responsive and happy to live high up on the tachometer — as it needs to, because peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4,800 rpm.
The eight-speed automatic transmission doesn’t exactly let the engine have all the fun it can, shifting far too quickly, even in sportier modes, never fully relenting in its pursuit of efficiency. The transmission puts the slush in slushbox, too, feeling a little janky in both upshifts and downshifts.
The aural experience is… strange. There’s a sound synthesizer that adds a hint of aggression to the stock exhaust note, but it’s easily turned off with a single button press and never really adds that much to begin with. My real issue is with the intake valve that opens between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm, dramatically increasing the cabin volume and giving the car a sound I think it should have at all times. But there’s no way to leave it open all the time, presumably to keep your passengers sane. If you’re on the track, you’ll never drop the revs low enough to have the system cut in and out, but on the street, it’s jarring and awkward and I wish it could be left open permanently. The car could desperately use some sort of consistent theater; the engine deserves as much. There’s not even any overrun from those sharp-lookin’ quadruple tailpipes.
What remains of the driving experience is actually pretty swell. The adaptive dampers make for a pretty cushy ride in Comfort mode, although they would be better without the thin (255/35 front, 275/35 rear) Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires from the anniversary package. In Sport mode, the suspension stiffens up and delivers the communicative sort of feeling you’d expect in a car of this caliber. There’s still some lean in the corners, but I think of it more like the body roll in the Miata, which adds to the fun factor by giving you feedback through body movement. The steering is direct and just heavy enough, but low on actual feedback.
The GS F might get walked left and right by similarly priced Germans, but it’s still rewarding for people who want to hold onto that V8 a little longer. It’s also rear-wheel drive, which purists will dig, and its standard torque-vectoring rear differential has no problem handing out controllable slides when my right foot asks nicely.
The EPA rates this V8 at 16 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway, numbers that I had no problem achieving, which puts the GS F just 1-2 mpg behind the 2019 BMW M550i. However, the M550i also has turbochargers and two additional driven wheels, so perhaps the Lexus could be better, given its relative lack of complex powertrain tech.
Woof, this tech
Tech is easily the sorest spot for the GS F. Its infotainment system is old, damned old, with its antiquated map graphics reminding me of cars I reviewed in 2014. This infotainment system has literally followed me for my entire career, laughing at me with its too-awkward usability and sluggish responsiveness.
Some Lexus models let you manipulate the 12.3-inch nontouchscreen with a trackpad, but the GS F uses a mouse-like contraption. Not only is it older than the trackpad, it’s harder to use, constantly slipping past its force-feedback detents and clicking on things I didn’t want it to. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, so if you want to play music from your phone, it’s best to avoid the mouse and use your phone (safely, of course).
It’s not all bad, though. The $900 color head-up display is right-sized and offers up no-nonsense information like speed limits, the current speed and a tachometer. The $1,380 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is worth every penny, providing some of the best audio across the entire industry. The infotainment system also offers Alexa integration and other apps, but the latter requires a separate application on whatever phone is plugged into the USB port.
One technological arena where Lexus nails it is safety. The GS F (and just about every other Lexus model) comes standard with Lexus’ Safety System Plus, a suite that includes automatic braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist. It’s not a heavy-handed system, either, only interfering when I’m really close to mucking it up, and the adaptive cruise setup is nice and smooth.
How I’d spec it
With what few options exist for the GS F, including the silly limited anniversary package, my tester costs a nearly inconceivable $93,080 including destination.
Starting with a base price of $84,600, I’ll spend $1,380 to upgrade the sound system, $300 to upgrade the brakes and $600 to upgrade the wheels, leaving the head-up display on the table. That leaves me with a much more palatable, but still kind of nutso $87,905 window sticker, including $1,025 for destination.
Down to brass tacks
Performance-wise, the GS F cannot be compared to absolute bangers like the Audi RS7, BMW M5 or Mercedes-AMG E63. Instead, it’s smarter to compare it to cars a tier lower, meaning the Audi S6, BMW M550i and Mercedes-AMG E53. When I do that, though, the GS F’s price tag is about $10,000 higher than any of those cars, leaving me wondering why anyone would buy it, considering its tech and cabin offerings fall behind those competitors, as well.
There’s really only one reason to get the GS F: the naturally aspirated V8. It’s a hell of a price to pay, but then again, rear-wheel-drive V8 sport sedans are an almost-dead breed in 2019. If you want to relish the past, this is a great way to do it, but you have to accept a whole host of trade-offs to make it happen.